Men Can’t Be Raped (1978)

Rating: C-

Dir: Jörn Donner
Star: Anna Godenius, Gösta Bredefeldt, Toni Regner, Christer Björkman
a.k.a. Män kan inte våldtas

Despite the provocative, to the point of incendiary, title, this is a slow – to the point of sluggish – developing rape-revenge movie. This is, I suspect, entirely deliberate, with Donner wanting to provide a more thoughtful look at the topic, along with shedding light on the casual sexism present in Scandinavian culture of the time [While it’s entirely Swedish, it was filmed in Helsinki for some reason] I’m not sure it’s too successful, rarely going beyond the obvious, and ending in a way that feels unsatisfactory. Though I did appreciate how the opening scene, with heroine Eva Randers (Godenius), giving irrelevant personal details to an almost callous police officer, isn’t quite what it seems.

She is a library assistant, recently separated and with a teenage son (Björkman). Eva goes out for a dinner with a friend for her 40th birthday, and meets car salesman Martin Wester (Bredefeldt). After her friend leaves, Eva ends up back at Martin’s apartment, where he rapes her. The next morning, everything has changed for her. In a typical genre entry, she’d tool up and go after him and/or similarly women-hating scum. Here? Not so much. Instead, she dons a dark wig and joins his bowling league, hangs around his apartment, visits the showroom where he works, and even approaches his ex-wife, for it turns out he is also separated. It feels like nobody in this movie is happy in their marriage.

In fact, nobody in this movie seems happy in general: perhaps it’s the Finnish influence. On that basis, it’s hard to say how the revolting experience changed Eva. All it seems to have done is make her aware of sexism, albeit expressed in what feel like ludicrously simplistic lines, such as “It’s difficult for a man to understand the physical needs of women.” Even by the low standards of seventies chauvinism, this seems less legitimate commentary, than a opening designed to provide Eva’s work colleague with an opening to go off on a bit of a rant: “We’ve got better things to do than listen to a load of shit!” Then again, nuanced portrayal of male characters here is basically limited to Eva’s bowling coach.

She eventually acquires a gun from a lawyer friend – interestingly, turns out she was unfaithful in her own marriage too, an unexpected wrinkle (and a rare occasion women are shown as bearing responsibility). This sets up the final confrontation where she faces her attacker at gunpoint.  Among the ranks of Scandi-revenge, it’s not exactly Thriller: A Cruel Picture, or even The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, shall we say. One can almost sense Donner sniffing derisively at anything obvious or crowd-pleasing. In place of a near-total lack of catharsis, we get a moral equivalence which is arguably more questionable. There’s no sense of punishment or justice: Eva just wants Wester to experience what she did. I found it all oddly unsatisfying, although it remains considerably more grounded than many in the genre.